An online/traditional educational hybrid inspired by the making of a university

What is the future of massive online open classrooms (MOOCs) like Udacity or EdX?  I think we’re seeing the beginning of something new and world changing.  I expressed this a couple of weeks ago here resulting in a series of conversations with my roommate.  The ins and outs and tangents of these chats have led me to consider a plausible change in the nature of higher education, in particular, a change I’d like to see. 

Bryan Caplan laid out some analysis on the economic model of education and three potential fates of both MOOCs and universities.  The post is definitely worth a read, but it comes to a conclusion about the future of education that strongly differs from mine:

My implied prediction: brick-and-mortar colleges will probably experience a slight decline in coming years, and the wage premium for online grads will probably slightly rise.  In the absence of big changes in government policy, however, higher education isn’t going to change much.  Old-fashioned colleges will stay in business, and the labor market will continue to heavily favor their graduates.

My view on the future of education is in line with Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, that the most likely model of higher education is a hybrid model in which brick-and-mortar universities are augmented by significant online components.  I’ve been thinking through what such a hybrid model might be.

I’d like to draw an analogy to the University of Texas at Dallas.  UTD started as a research arm of Texas Instruments.  It was given to the state of Texas in 1969.  Prior to 1975, the school was only a graduate institution.  Undergraduate Juniors and Senior began to be admitted after 1975 to finish their studies then go onto graduate programs with the university.  as a graduate only school and gradually incorporated undergraduate education.  Freshman and sophomores began to be allowed entrance after 1990.

I think a plausible MOOC-University hybrid education model could be built around the early version UTD as a place to finish your degree.  High quality lower level course are made available online.  For entry as a Junior level student you must pass all these courses then go through a ‘transfer test’ in which an evaluation of your skills are made.  I think this would allow colleges to operate at a profit on their online content based on simple ideas of scale, while applying this profit to subsidize the final two years of college.

This hybrid education captures the “Human Capital Model” of education in which the purpose of college is to teach skills and the “Signaling Model” of education in which the purpose of a college degree acts as a signal of desired traits in a future employee independent of skills.  The hybrid model I propose can act to teach skills and since a student is “finished” at a university there is the potential for greater signaling than what might be offered by an online only university.

This is not a complete model of how to change education, but by looking to the methods of creating universities, we can gain insights into hot to create new educational models.

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